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Unmatched thespian

K.K. GOPALAKRISHNAN

Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair’s death anniversary falls today.



Titan: The late Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair handled both male and female roles with élan.

Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair passed away on an August 15.

Born in 1914 at Cheruthazham in Kannur, Krishnan Nair believed that his voyage as a Kathakali artiste was a turn of fate. A Kathakali play that he saw as a child attracted him towards the art form.

“Noting my interest, Varanakkot Subramanian Namboodiripad, a local patron, arranged for my training under Chandu Panicker Asan,” he had reminisced.

Later Vallathol happened to see his artistry and got him enrolled as one of the first students of Kalamandalam. This enabled Nair to be trained under Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon and Kunju Kurup. Later he honed ‘netra abhinaya’ (acting with the eyes) under Mani Madhava Chakyar. During his formative years, Poothana in ‘Poothanamoksham’ was his magnum opus and he came to be known as Poothana Krishnan!

Playing lead roles

Soon he started handling all the lead roles and at one time he was even described as ‘Kalamandalam.’ While many of his classmates at the Kalamandalam like Guru Gopinath, Ananda Sivaram, Kelu Nair and Madhavan ventured beyond the format of Kathakali, Krishnan Nair preferred to stay within its structure.

When he was asked about this choice, he had said: “It was difficult to sustain but my preference was only Kathakali.”


He was an all-time great performer and his physique gave him the leeway to enact both male and female roles.

Heroic characters (pacha) like Nala, Bahuka, Dharmaputra, Karna and Rugmangada, and negative characters (kathi) like Keechaka and Ravana were some of his memorable roles.

Along with Kudamaloor Karunakaran Nair and Kottakkal Sivaraman, he created larger-than-life characters. It was a memorable experience to watch his Nala with Gopi as Pushkara.

During the latter part of his artistic life, Krishnan Nair began to focus on his expressive face and eyes. He managed to portray characters like Dharmaputhra of ‘Krimeeravadham.’ He was one of the pioneers to become a star among Kathakali artistes.

An unmatched artiste, it was a pity that the only honour the Government chose to bestow on this great artiste was a Padmasri.

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